Protesters gathered at City Hall Monday to join a labor union-led protest rallying for Black lives and against the widening inequities amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The protest was one of 25 taking place nationwide.
“It’s health, education, access to loans and financing, neighborhoods that depreciate in value – there’s an entire system that excludes and oppresses people,” said Jason Mitchell, a San Francisco resident. “To unify the country, we have to come to terms with the brutality of racism and white supremacy.”
Speakers paid tribute to U.S. Rep. John Lewis, who died Friday. Theresa Rutherford, vice president of Services Employees International Union Local 1021, cited as inspiration Lewis’ march from Selma to Montgomery in March of 1965, in which he and other civil rights leaders were stopped and beaten by state troopers. Lewis’ fight for civil rights, Rutherford said, helped enact the Voting Rights Act in 1965 which prohibited racial discrimination in voting.
“This man helped make real change and we’re here to continue to make those real changes,” Rutherford said.
In advance of Mayor London Breed’s announcement of The City’s proposed budget on July 31, protesters also rallied against potential cuts to public services in the face of a $1.5 billion deficit over the next two years, demanding Breed prevent service reductions, furloughs and layoffs.
The workers who would bear the brunt of cuts, Rutherford added, include nurses, clerks and janitors.
“These frontline workers are also people with families dealing with the pandemic,” Rutherford said. “A lot of them are single mothers, some of the lowest paid workers in the city and the country. There is no reason for the mayor or the city to give up their pay. They already earn very little. They should be able to thrive and save lives.”
The labor union has already delayed wage increase for the next year in the face of budget shortfalls due to the pandemic, Rutherford added: “We agreed to give that up and then [Breed] came back and said to us: ‘Now I want you to give that up for two years.’ Which frontline worker, which single mother can afford to do that?”
Bianca Polovina, an employee at the Office of Labor Standards Enforcement (OLSE) and a member of International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers (IFPTE) Local 21, said that corporations and billionaires must also start paying their fair share.
A ballot measure proposed by Supervisors Matt Haney and Hilary Ronen, would levy a tax on CEOs earning at least 100 times the median income of their average workers. The initiative is just one among a series of potential tax hikes on the ballot for November.
“Every year, [OLSE] recovers millions of dollars that employers have basically stolen in wages and benefits for their workforce,” Polovina said. “And we’ve seen even before COVID-19 how the broken economy works only for the people on the very top and exploits the labor of workers of color, especially Black workers [and] immigrant workers as well.”
Deanna Chan, an occupational therapist in San Francisco and a member of IFPTE Local 21, said she along with other health care workers joined the rally to support Black Lives and ensure that city employees’ salaries do not get cut.
Health care workers have been deployed to work at hotels and assist people who are unhoused, she added. “We’ve been doing everything asked of us,” she said.
“We’re here on behalf of the city to do everything we can get through this pandemic,” Chan said. “We need the support of everyone so we can keep doing our jobs and help others.”